Gov’t shutdown extended; relief package could benefit Diné
On the heels of President Donald Trump finally signing the coronavirus relief package, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed an order extending the Navajo government shutdown through Jan. 10.
The continued rise in COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation led to the order, which states that all branches, divisions, departments, programs, offices, non-governance certified chapters, enterprises, and casinos will follow directives, instructions and policies from the Navajo Health Command Operations Center.
“The coronavirus continues its rapid rise on the Navajo Nation and surrounding states at an alarming rate,” stated the emergency order.
As of Monday night, the Navajo Nation reported 95 new COVID-19 positive cases and 777 deaths.
It also reported that 11,494 individuals have recovered from the virus and 199,340 tests have been administered. The total number of positive cases is now 22,371.
All Navajo government offices and enterprises will continue limited services to citizens and business partners with efforts to minimize the spread of the virus.
“Employees who are necessary to continue the government’s limited services … shall be required to work,” stated the order, “either at their respective worksites, or through telecommunicating.”
All Navajo Nation entities will follow directions that require citizens to remain on the Nation, limit movement and comply with curfew hours.
With Trump’s signature, also extended was the CARES Act spending deadline, which was moved from Dec 30, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2021.
Several provisions of the new spending bill could impact Navajo, Santee Lewis, Navajo Nation Washington Office director, explained to the Navajo Nation Council.
The bill funds the federal government until Oct. 1, 2021. The bill includes $1.4 trillion in federal spending, $900 billion in coronavirus response and a supplemental appropriation act.
“President Trump has indicated that he will send a rescissions package to Congress that aims to reverse some of the funding in this act,” explained Lewis, who said they would continue to monitor the situation.
The provisions mandate $600 in direct payments for every adult and dependent for individuals earning up to $75,000 or married couples earning up to $150,000. These checks should be received by the end of January.
Enhanced unemployment benefits allow individuals to receive an additional $300 per week through mid-March. Rental assistance is included by way of an eviction moratorium until Jan. 31.
When it comes to the Paycheck Protection Program, $284 billion is provided and eligibility was expanded to include nonprofits, local newspapers, and TV and radio stations.
“So I hope that KTNN will consider applying for the PP Program,” Lewis said. “If they are in need of some funds this would be appropriate.”
These PPPs, she said, are directed to help the smaller and hardest hit businesses employing no more than 300 employees. This is to ensure that smaller businesses are helped this go-round as opposed to the first go-round, which saw large corporations benefit.
“There is some caveat … they must have used all of the first PPP loan,” said Lewis. “They must demonstrate up to 25 percent reduction in gross receipts. They also make certain entities ineligible … like if they received a loan 2.5 times the average monthly payroll cost. They wouldn’t be necessarily eligible.”
There is $12 billion set aside for minority-owned and very small businesses, expanding who would qualify. So Navajo businesses that were denied the first time may be eligible this time, said Lewis.
Some $15 billon is reserved for live venues, movie theaters, and cultural institutions.
Regarding vaccines, there is $68 billion to purchase and distribute vaccines and expand testing. There is $7 billion to increase broadband Internet.
Specific to Indian Country, Lewis said $13.7 billion will go to the Department of the Interior, $6.2 billion to the Indian Health Service, $3.5 billion for BIA and BIE, $9.2 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency and $2.5 million set aside for grants and contracts to provide alcohol or drug treatment.
Another $215 million is earmarked for grants to combat violence against women, including $40 million for transitional housing assistance grants for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault; and $1 million for analysis and research on violence on Indian women to be conducted by the Office of Justice Programs.
The Special Diabetes Program was re-authorized for three years or until 2023.